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How to talk to your child about suicide — and help their friends

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Young man comforting his friend.

In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

  1. Where can I turn for tips?
  2. How can my child help a friend?
  3. Who is most vulnerable?

If your child seems depressed, we understand it can be hard to know what to say. But it’s better to intervene before it might become too late.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks suicide as the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24. You can help prevent suicide by talking about it, providing support services, limiting access to guns, alcohol and drugs — and following up your loved one.

Need urgent help? In Palm Beach County, call 2-1-1 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

1. WHERE CAN I TURN FOR TIPS?

Tell your child upfront that you understand mental and emotional health topics aren’t easy to talk about, says Patrice Schroeder, Community Relations specialist at 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast.

“Parents could say, ‘I know sometimes you don’t feel like sharing with me’ or ‘I do want you to feel comfortable about reaching out for help, even if you choose to talk to someone else,’ ” she says.

Visit 211palmbeach.org or suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more talking tips and information on suicide.

2.  HOW CAN MY CHILD HELP A FRIEND?

Encourage children to reach out to their school’s guidance counselor or any staff member they might trust, says Ljubica Ciric, vice president of Child and Family Mental Health at Community Partners of South Florida.

In fact, local agencies, including Community Partners, are providing co-located therapists at schools daily under a new program in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Students also can text their ZIP code to TXT211 (898211) or go to 211palmbeach.org to chat online from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Schroeder uses the military model of ACE — Ask, Care, Escort  — with children. If you think a friend is suicidal, ask. Don’t keep it a secret even if your friend says not to tell anyone. Go with your friend to talk to a favorite teacher, coach, counselor or anyone they trust.

See or hear something concerning? Say something! You can report suspicious activity anonymously to law enforcement and school officials via the Palm Beach County StudentProtect app or state FortifyFL app.

3. WHO IS MOST VULNERABLE?

News stories detailing 17-year-old Bryce Gowdy’s suicide by train in Deerfield Beach, along with a recent study published in Pediatrics journal, suggest black male teens are using increasingly lethal methods for suicide.

Children who have experienced trauma or have been abused are at a high risk for suicide, Ciric says.

“Other groups to watch include teens of divorced parents and those who have experienced recent loss,” she says. “Other warning signs are teens struggling with self-harming behavior or who have frequent visible injuries, teens who are withdrawn and timid, teens who have a lack of friends, and those who demonstrate hypersexualized behavior.”

SOURCES:

• Patrice Schroeder, Community Relations specialist, 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast
• Ljubica Ciric, vice president of Child and Family Mental Health, Community Partners of South Florida
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vital Statistics System report
“Trends of Suicidal Behaviors Among High School Students in the United States: 1991–2017,” November 2019, Pediatrics journal
• Florida Department of Education, Palm Beach Mental Health Allocation Plan

 

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